“Could I ask her out?” He says. My head almost spins straight off and lands in the dirt, like a loose toddler on a merry-go-round before I stop it. I stare at him while my thoughts catch up with my body. I close my mouth and look back forward. He squints at me for a second before looking back forward. The sun keeps him from looking at me for too long. I appreciate that.
The wind plays with a few dead leaves on the ground as we walk by them. It tosses them around in a circle before getting bored and leaving them lying there, like a loose toddler seeing unattended power tools only a few feet away. It sweeps towards me and brings with it a cool scent. I inhale it and let it back out my mouth. I taste her.
She popped a mint in her mouth and smiled at me. Like, really smiled. Not the lame kind of smile that the cashier throws at before he checks his watch. Not the kind an acquaintance uses to assure you you’re really not bothering them when you’re overstepping boundaries. She looked inside me and her heart forced itself up through her throat and tugged the edges of her mouth. The only thing keeping the butterflies in my stomach from bursting out was the countless layers I wore. I must’ve looked like she sucked my mind out of my head. Before I could wipe that expression off my face she turned back forward.
I stumble over my words as I look at him. He puts his hand above his eyes to look at me, but he still squints underneath it. I look for the words to answer, but my head is more devoid of answers than a loose toddler on a merry-go-round is of parents. The truth is, I can still feel her hand in mine.
“You're good, man,” He says. He puts his hand on my shoulder and gives me one of those fake smiles where your eyes falter before the look breaks. His eyes falter. The look breaks. The look and smile return and then break again. His hand falls back to his side.
“I know you guys had a lot between you.” I nod with my head down and reply with an affirming grunt. Dried mud clumps on the midsole of my shoes. I scrape it on the ground as I walk but it doesn’t help. The mud I manage to get off leaves a brown residue behind on my shoe.
He’s right. Every time we went out I put on 1,000 coats. My midsection bulged a few feet from all the layers of fabric. On the days I could fit it into my schedule, I couldn’t fit it through the door. If it took me until noon to get the first half on, it would be dark by the time I finished. My arms had a few inches of motion. My hand swung back and forth like the hooked fish on the line of a proud angler as she held it in hers.
I clear my throat.
“You know what man,” I say. He looks at me like a dog would look at someone who just said cheese, “You’re right,”
A funny thing happened. I melted. I fell into the ground and it swallowed me like the kind of snow that wets your feet through the top of your boots. I didn’t mind it. It was warm. She looked at her hand. I watched as what was left of mine spilled between her fingers. I bet her palm still carried the heat of my hand. She looked down at me. I wonder what she saw. She told me I better pick myself up soon with her spearmint tinted voice. I raised my arm and we both watched it drip back into the pavement. My arms swam freely in the segment of sidewalk, like koi in a pond. I closed my eyes and lied back. When I opened them I saw a blue wad of gum stuck into the pavement.
It didn’t take long for someone to step on it. He lifted his foot, rolled his eyes, and told his friends to wait up. They crossed their arms while he looked around. I watched as he sat in the grass and scraped it back off onto my square.
Before long the hundreds of shoes that passed stained it brown with mud. They wiped themselves on my surface. On the days it rained the water helped more to accumulate the dirt than wash it away.
“You good?” He says. I blink and shake my head then look at him. The crosswalk beeps a few times. A pedestrian symbol on the other side of the road invites us across.
“C’mon, we can walk” The crosswalk’s beeping fills the space between words. I scrape some mud off my shoes and watch it fall onto the sidewalk.
The sun dips below the horizon in a red-orange blob. My spindly shadow spills off the pavement into the grass next to it. It covers a blackened blob of old gum. I scrape at one with the toe of my shoe to try to get it to come off. Some dirt from my shoe crumbles onto it. The gum’s edges hold strong. Not one part buckles.
I try again to wipe the footprint off, but it doesn’t budge. I use the heel of my shoe this time. I balance on my other foot as I wipe it back and forth on the concrete. Nothing.
A stray breeze nips at the tip of my nose and makes me stumble. It wipes some sweat off my forehead before dissipating. A renewed heat seeps back into my nose.
I put my hands on my knees for balance. The gum sits unchanged. I kick at it once before turning my back. The crosswalk beeps. I step onto the road.
“Yeah,” I say.
“And thanks for asking beforehand,”